In today’s digital era, we almost take for granted that all our information is saved and backed up, be it on our local drives or in the cloud — whether automatically, manually, or via some other service. For information from decades past, that isn’t always the case, and recovery can be a dicey process. Despite the tricky challenges, the team at [Museo dell’Informatica Funzionante] and [mera400.pl], as well as researchers and scientists from various museums, institutions, and more all came together in the attempt to recover the Polish CROOK operating system believed to be stored on five magnetic tapes.
Originally stored at the Warsaw Museum of Technology, the tapes were ideally preserved, but — despite some preliminary test prep — the museum’s tape reader kept hanging at the 800 BPI NRZI encoded header, even though the rest of the tape was 1600 BPI phase encoding. Some head scratching later, the team decided to crack open their Qualstar 1052 tape reader and attempt to read the data directly off the circuits themselves!!
We were just starting to wonder exactly what we’re going to do with our old collection of cassette tapes, and then along comes art robotics to the rescue!
Russian tech artist [::vtol::] came up with another unique device to make us smile. This time, it’s a small remote-controlled, two-wheeled robot. It could almost be a line follower, but instead of detecting the cassette tapes that criss-cross over the floor, it plays whatever it passes by, using two spring-mounted tape heads. Check it out in action in the video below.
Some of the tapes are audiobooks by sci-fi author [Stanislaw Lem] (whom we recommend!), while others are just found tapes. Want to find out what’s on them? Just drive.
For a brief period in the 1940’s it might have been possible for a young enamored soul to hand his hopeful a romantic mix-spool of wire. This was right before the magnetic tape recorder and its derivatives came into full swing and dominated the industry thoroughly until the advent of the compact disk and under a hundred kilogram hard disk drives. [Techmoan] tells us all about it in this video.
The device works as one would expect, but it still sounds a little crazy. Take a ridiculously long spool of steel wire the size of a human hair(a 1 hour spool was 2.2km of wire), wind that through a recording head at high speed, magnetize the wire, and spool it onto a receiving spool.
If you’re really lucky the wire won’t dramatically break causing an irreversible tangle of wire. At that point you can reverse the process and hear the recorded sound. As [Techmoan] shows, the sound can best be described as… almost okay. Considering that its chief competition at the time was sound carved into expensive aluminum acetate plates, this wasn’t the worst.
The wire recorder lived on for a few more years in niche applications such as airplane black boxes. It finally died, but it does sound like a really fun couple-of-weekends project to try and build one. Make sure and take good pictures and send it in if any of you do.
What do you do if you need Gigabytes of storages in the 80s? You get tape drives. What do you do if you need Terabytes of storage in the year 2000? You get tape. The IBM Totalstorage 3584 is an automated tape storage unit made sometime around the year 2000. It held Terabytes of data, and [Stephen] picked up two of them from a local university. Here’s the teardown. Unfortunately, there’s no footage from a GoPro stuck inside the machine when it’s changing tapes, but the teardown was respectable, netting two drives, the power supplies, and huge motors, fans, relays, and breakers.
A few years ago Motorola released the Lapdock, a CPU-less laptop with inputs for HDMI and USB. This was, and still is, a great idea – we’re all carrying powerful computers in our pocket, and carrying around a smartphone and a laptop is effort duplication. As you would expect, the best use for the Lapdock was with a Raspberry Pi, and prices of Lapdocks have gone through the roof in the last few years. The Superbook is the latest evolution of this Lapdock idea. It’s a small, thin, CPU-less laptop that connects to a phone using a special app and a USB cable. It also works with the Raspberry Pi. Very interesting, even if they didn’t swap the CTRL and Caps Lock keys as God intended.
Did you know we have a store? Yes! It’s true! Right now we need to get rid of some stuff, so we’re having a clearance sale. We got FPGA Arduino shields! Buy a cordwood puzzle! SUPERLIMINAL ADVERTISING.
The computers aboard Federation vessels in the 24th century were based on isolinear chips. Each chip plugged into a backplane, apparently giving certain sections of the ship different functions. Think of it as a reconfigurable PDP Straight-8. This is canon, from TNG, and doesn’t make any sense. [Bohrdasaplank] over on Thingiverse has a few different models of isolinear chips. After close examination of these chips, we can only come to one conclusion.
How do you get a pilot bearing out of a motor? The normal way is using grease (or caulk, or some other gooey substance) as a hydraulic ram, but a slice of bread works much better. This is a weird one, but it works perfectly, with hardly any cleanup whatsoever.
542-page PDF warning here. Here’s the operations manual for the Apollo 15, including operation of the AGC, how to fly the LM, the planned traverses and EVAs, and a nice glossary of handy equations. If anyone’s looking for a LaTeX, InDesign, or bookbinding project that would make the perfect bathroom reader, this is it.
Here’s something I’ve been having trouble with. This is an mATX computer case with a screen on the side and a cover for the screen that includes a keyboard and trackpad. Yes, it’s a modern version of the luggable, ‘portable’, plasma-screen monsters of the 80s. I don’t know where I can buy just the case, so I’m turning to the Hackaday community. There’s an entire line of modern luggable computers made by some factory in Taiwan, but as far as I can tell, they only sell to resellers who put their own mobo and CPU in the machine. I just want the case. Where can I buy something like this? If you’re asking why anyone would want something like this, you can put two 1080s in SLI and still have a reasonably portable computer. That’s a VR machine, right there.
If you’ve got an old calculator, Commodore 64, or any other device that used a tape recorder to store and retrieve data, you’ve probably also got a bunch of cassettes lying around, right? Well, you can get rid of them now (or sell them to nostalgic collectors for outrageous prices) because you can just as easily dump them to Audacity, decode them and archive them on a more sane medium.
In [Kai]’s case, the computer was a Sharp Pocket Computer system, and in his post there’s a lot of detail that’s specific to that particular system. If that’s applicable to you, go read up. In particular, you’ll be glad to find that the Pocket-Tools is a software suite that will encode and decode files between the Sharp binary formats and audio. Along the way, we found similar tools for Casio pocket computers too.
For a more general-purpose approach, like if you’re trying to dump and load data from a more standard computer that uses 1200/2400 Hz FSK encoding, this Python library may be useful, or you can implement the Goerzel algorithm yourself on your platform of choice. If you’ve got a particular binary format in mind, though, you’ll have to do the grunt work yourself.
Anyone out there still using these audio data encodings? We know that ham radio’s APRS system runs on two tones. What else? Why and when would you ever transfer data this way these days?
An embedded MEMS sensor might be lots of fun to play with on your first foray into the embedded world–why not deploy a whole network of them? Alas, the problem with communicating with a series of identical sensors becomes increasingly complicated as we start needing to handle the details of signal integrity and the communication protocols to handle all that data. Fortunately, [Artem], [Hsin-Liu], and [Joseph] at MIT Media Labs have made sensor deployment as easy as unraveling a strip of tape from your toolkit. They’ve developed SensorTape, an unrollable, deployable network of interconnected IMU and proximity sensors packaged in a familiar form factor of a roll of masking tape.
Possibly the most interesting technical challenge in a string of connected sensor nodes is picking a protocol that will deliver appreciable data rates with low latency. For that task the folks at MIT Media labs picked a combination of I²C and peer-to-peer serial. I²C accomodates the majority of transmissions from master to tape-node slave, but addresses are assigned dynamically over serial via inter-microcontroller communication. The net effect is a fast transfer rate of 100 KHz via I²C with a protocol initialization sequence that accommodates chains of various lengths–up to 128 units long! The full details behind the protocol are in their paper [PDF].
With a system as reconfigurable as SensorTape, new possibilities unfold with a solid framework for deploying sensors and aggregating the data. Have a look at their video after the break to get a sense of some of the use-cases that they’ve uncovered. Beyond their discoveries, there are certainly plenty others. What happens when we spin them up in the dryer, lay them under our car or on the ceiling? These were questions we may never have dreamed up because the tools just didn’t exist! Our props are out to SensorTape for giving us a tool to explore a world of sensor arrays without having to trip over ourselves in the implementation details.
No doubt many of you have spent a happy Christmas tearing away layers of wrapping paper to expose some new gadget. But did you stop to spare a thought for the “sticky-back plastic” holding your precious gift paper together?
There are a crazy number of adhesive tapes available, and in this article I’d like to discuss a few of the ones I’ve found useful in my lab, and their sometimes surprising applications. I’d be interested in your own favorite tapes and adhesives too, so please comment below!
But first, I’d like to start with the tapes that I don’t use. Normal cellulose tape, while useful outside the lab, is less than ideally suited to most lab applications. The same goes for vinyl-based insulating tapes, which I find have a tendency to fall off leaving a messy sticky residue. When insulation is necessary, heatshrink seems to serve better.
The one tape I have in my lab which is similar to common cellulose tape however is Scotch Magic Tape. Scotch Magic tape, made from a cellulose acetate, and has a number of surprising properties. It’s often favored because of it’s matte finish. It can easily be written on and when taped to paper appears completely transparent. It’s also easy to tear/shape and remove. But for my purposes I’m more interested in it’s scientific applications.
Here’s a neat trick you can try at home. Take a roll of tape (I’ve tried this with Scotch Magic tape but other tapes may work too) to a dark room. Now start unrolling the tape and look at interface where the tape leaves the rest of the roll. You should see a dim blue illumination. The effect is quite striking and rather surprising. It’s called triboluminescence and has been observed since the 1950s in tapes and far earlier in other materials (even sugar when scraped in a dark room will apparently illuminate). The mechanism, however, is poorly understood.
It was perhaps this strange effect that led researchers to try unrolling tape in a vacuum. In 1953 a group of Russian researchers attempted this and bizarrely enough, were able to generate X-rays. Their results were unfortunately forgotten for many years, but were replicated in 2008 and even used to X-ray a researcher’s finger! As usual Ben Krasnow has an awesome video on the topic:
In my lab however I mostly use Scotch tape to remove surface layers. In certain experiments it’s valuable to have an atomically flat surface. Both Mica and HOPG (a kind of graphite) are composed of atomically flat layers. Scotch tape can be used to remove the upper layers leaving a clean flat surface for experimentation.
Researchers have also modified this technique to produce graphene. Graphene is composed of single carbon layers and has a number of amazing properties, highly conductive, incredibly strong, and transparent. For years producing small quantities of graphene provided difficult. But in 2004 a simple method was developed at the University of Manchester using nothing but bulk ordered graphite (HOPG) and a little Scotch tape. When repeatedly pressed between the Scotch tape, the Graphite layers can be separated until eventually only a signal layer of graphene remains.
The other non-conductive tape I use regularly in my lab is of course Kapton tape. While Kapton is a Dupoint brand name, it’s basically a polyimide film tape which is thermally stable up to 400 degrees C. This makes it ideal for work holding in electronics (or masking out pins) when soldering. You can also use it for insulating (though it’s inadvisable for production applications). Typically polyimide tape is available under a number of dubious synonyms (one example is Kaptan) from a variety of Chinese suppliers at low cost.
Carbon tape is conductive in all axes. This means it you can create a electrical connection by simply taping to your devices. It’s resistance however is somewhat high. I’ve most commonly come across this when using electron microscopes. Carbon tape is used both to keep a sample in place and create an electrical connection between the sample and the sample mount.
Other conducting tapes are available with lower resistance, creating a electrical connection without soldering is valuable in a number of situations. Particularly when heat might damage the device. One example of this is piezoelectric materials. Not only does solder often bond poorly to ceramic materials, but it may also depole the material removing its piezoelectric properties. I tend to use conductive epoxies in these situations, but conductive tapes appear to be an attractive option.
Aluminum tape is commonly used for (heat) insulation in homes. It’s therefore very cheap and easily available. As well as conducting heat aluminum tape of course also conducts electricity. Around the lab this can be pretty handy. While the adhesive is not conductive, making it less attractive for connection parts, I’ve found aluminum tape great of sealing up holes in shielded enclosures. It also makes a great accompaniment to aluminum foil which is used to provide ad-hoc shielding in many scientific environments. Copper tape is also easily obtained, though slightly more expensive.
A much less common, but far cooler conductive tape is so called Z tape. This tape is composed of regular double-sided tape impregnated with spaced conductors. The result is a tape that conducts in only one direction (from the top to the bottom). This makes it similar in structure to a zebra strip, commonly used to connect LCDs. Z tape is unfortunately pretty expensive, a short 100mm strip can cost 5 dollars. What exactly 3M had in mind when creating Z tape is unclear. But it can be used for repairing FPC connectors on LCDs or in other situations where soldering is impractical.
One of the more awesome applications is Jie and Bunnie’s circuit sticker project. The kits are designed to allow kids to assemble circuits simply by sticking components together. Z tape is ideal for this, as it allows multiple connections to be made using the same piece to tape.
I couldn’t write an article on tape without mentioning the somewhat apocryphal “Invisible Electrostatic Wall” incident. A report at the 17th Annual EOS/ESD Symposium describes a “force field” like wall that appeared during the production of polypropylene film. While the story seems slightly dubious, it reminds us of the surprising applications and utility of tapes.
Next time you’re sending off a package or ripping open a package, spare a thought for the humble tape that holds it together.